Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale

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Title: Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale

Notable: Book #3 in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series

Premise:

We follow James Reed and family as they journey West to California.  Reed insists on taking a shortcut which he has read about in a book, which results in disastrous consequences.  The traveling party experiences death, illness, murder, the loss of oxen and cattle, and finally being stuck on top of a mountain in the middle of winter.  What they resort to in their efforts to survive are quite shocking.

My thoughts:

Just like the other Nathan Hale books, this one is an engaging way to learn about history.  Kids will love the playful supporting characters, quality illustrations, and interesting way that historical events are presented.  I will warn you, however, that this book is not for the faint of heart!

The story starts off well enough.  The Reed family wants to go out West to seek their fortune and they join with others to form a wagon train.  James Reed convinces others to follow Hastings cutoff, which he read about in a book (written by a lawyer, not a frontiersman).  Despite numerous warnings and indications that it is an unwise course of action, Reed persists, believing himself to be in the right.  That decision leads to horrific consequences.

I’ll give away the shocking bit here, so if you don’t want to know, stop reading.  When the Donner party find themselves stranded for the winter with very few supplies, they eventually have to resort to cannibalism to stay alive.  Thankfully, they don’t show any icky bits in the illustrations.  I still get the creeps thinking about it.  Reading this story makes you wonder what you would do if you were in their shoes.  It’s easy to say, “I would never do that.”  But then again, if you were starving, your thinking would probably be a bit skewed.

I’d say use your discretion in allowing your child to read this book.  Some will have no problem reading about cannibalism, while for others it would be traumatizing.  My 10- and 12-year-old boys read it and were fine, but my 8-year-old girl would probably hate it.

I recommend Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party to kids who enjoy graphic novels and would prefer to learn about history through that medium.  This particular book is best suited to mature elementary-age children up to teens, or even adults.

Possible Objections:

  • Violence (though the illustrations are not graphic)
  • Cannibalism

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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The Blind Colt by Glen Rounds

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Title: The Blind Colt by Glen Rounds

Premise:

A blind colt is born to a mare who is part of a herd of Mustangs in the American West.  Whitey, a young boy, and his uncle Torwal own a nearby ranch, and watch over the animals within their domain.  Uncle Torwal is in favor of shooting the colt, but Whitey pleads for his life.  He would love to own a horse like that someday.  Against all odds, the little colt survives the winter but gets lost and separated from his band.  He finds his way to the ranch’s other horses, and Whitey finally gets his chance to prove that his faith in the blind colt’s abilities has not been misplaced.

My thoughts:

I’ve had this book since I was a kid and I remember being enamored of it back then.  Though I never had a horse, I dreamt of getting one and even wrote a story in first grade about a horse that was mine (in reality it belonged to my cousins).  So yeah, horses have always fascinated me.  Interestingly, this book is based on a true story!

It’s a bit short for a chapter book, so a child could read it in a day or two.  There really isn’t much to the story.  A blind colt is born and survives in the American West with his mother and the rest of the Mustangs.  However, one day he slips down a ravine and can’t get back to the other horses.  In his wanderings, he finds his way to the ranch’s work horses and sticks with them until he is discovered by Whitey, the boy who kept him from being shot in the first place.  Whitey then gentles the colt and Uncle Torwal says he can keep him.  That’s it!

The writing itself is quality and I think that’s what makes the story enjoyable.  There is a lot of description about the wilderness and the discoveries that the colt makes while he tries to get by in the big, mysterious world.  He faces some perils along the way, such as a rattlesnake, mudhole, blizzard, etc., but with his heightened senses of hearing and smell, and the help of his mother, this tough little guy makes it through.

I recommend The Blind Colt to kids who are just beginning to read chapter books or as a cute family read-aloud.  It would particularly appeal to horse lovers!

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

red-pony

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As I was browsing my parents’ bookshelf the other day, I came across a 1945 copy of The Red Pony by John Steinbeck. I think that old books are awesome, so I decided to read this short novel.

Premise:

Jody lives on a ranch in the Salinas Valley of California with his parents and Billy, a ranch hand.  Jody’s father is a controlling dictator, but Billy connects with Jody in a way that his father cannot.  When Jody wants a pony, Billy does all he can to ensure that he gets one.

My thoughts:

For some reason, I did not think critically about the story before starting.  This will be a fun story about a pony, right?  I forgot to take into account that John Steinbeck was the author!!  No, no, no–this did not turn into a cute and heartwarming pony story.  Stupid me for even thinking that it would.

If you’re familiar with Steinbeck’s other works, you’ll know that he tells sad, often depressing stories.  Life is hard in his books and this one is no different.  Jody, the main character, has some real set-backs in his childhood.  As the reader, you have to read between the lines to see how he’s coping with those challenges and how they ultimately affect him.

One question I want answered: What happens to Nellie’s colt???  And the old paisano??  Steinbeck leaves you in the lurch, guessing about what happened to these characters whom you thought would be important plot elements.  Oh well–I guess his novels are unpredictable, just like real life.

There are definitely some deep thoughts, feelings, and life lessons to ponder in this novel.  I don’t know if elementary-age kids will really grasp it all, or if they’ll just think it’s a depressing story.  I came away with a sense of how bleak life is and that our actions are ultimately futile and unimportant.  Steinbeck may have been saying something different–but that was my impression.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy reading class literature and would like a fuller knowledge of Steinbeck’s work.  I’m not sure that the average reader would enjoy this book.

Possible Objections:

  • A handful of curse words (d-word & J.C.)

Rating: 3 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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